The voice on the recording – an interview between then-PEOPLE reporter Sue Carswell and a man going by the name John Miller – was Trump’s, Maples told Carswell before bursting into tears.
After The Washington Post resurfaced the recording on Friday, Trump adamantly denied ever posing as his own spokesperson. But it appears the billionaire businessman did make at least one call as a man named Miller in the early 1990s, amid his divorce from wife Ivana Trump and eventual engagement to Maples. Trump admitted it was him at the time, in a subsequent PEOPLE story quoting him as saying the ruse was “a good time at Marla’s expense and I’m very sorry.”
Former PEOPLE editor Karen Schneider, now a writer and mom of two living in Minnesota, recalls listening to the recording in 1991.
“I remember when Sue played the tape [for me] and she put him on speakerphone and we listened to [Trump] impersonating himself and we were conflicted about playing it for Marla. It felt like we were in high school and they were the ‘It’ couple, the quarterback and the cheerleader – remember they were the subject of intense national interest at the time – and we found out he was hitting on so many other girls in the class and everyone knew it but her. Do you tell her? Sue really struggled with the decision – should she play it for Marla or not?”
“And she felt awful when Marla started crying when she heard this guy who called himself John Miller who was clearly Donald saying the ring he gave her wasn’t an engagement ring,” Schneider continues. “We had empathy for Marla … She was a very sweet woman who definitely seemed in over her head.”
An apologetic Trump later invited Carswell and Schneider out for a night on the town with him and Maples, picking the two women up in a stretch limo.
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“He liked the press and this was in a time when celebrities did not always talk to us willingly and no one had social media and there was a sense of distance and having to negotiate terms regarding access,” Schneider explains. “But dealing with Trump was the opposite.”
Schneider recalls the “surreal” limo ride now, telling PEOPLE, “Sue was across from us and Donald was in the middle of one seat, between me and Marla, and he kept talking to me about how women find him so attractive, and telling me how difficult it was, having to deal with so many women who were so attracted to him … He wanted to me to acknowledge how fabulous he was and he wanted me to validate how difficult it was for him to fight off so many women.”
Schneider says Trump’s boasts normally would have appealed to her reporter’s instinct, but she found it difficult to press him about his comments on other women when his girlfriend was sitting right next to him.
“I was embarrassed because I was worried Marla, right on the other side of him, would hear this and so instead of digging deeper, I tried to quickly acknowledge what he said,” Schneider explains. “It was clear Donald expected me and needed me to agree with him. And I didn’t even dare make a joke about it because he had no sense of humor, at all. So I smiled and nodded and tried to change the subject and spend what seemed like a very long drive staring awkwardly out the window.”
Trump and Maples eventually got married in 1993 before going on to divorce in 1999. Though the presumptive GOP nominee moved on to marry Melania Trump, it seems he still has a special place on his desk for Maples.